The best approach to develop interesting characters for your novel is by observing people in your own life; meaning your family, friends, neighbours and acquaintances. Readers will be able to relate more to those characters as they will sound and feel more realistic. So for a while, keep a keen eye on the people around you. Observe their style of talking, their facial expressions, frequent mannerisms, their special qualities or weaknesses. This will help to add more depth to your character as you go on developing it – in the sense make it more believable and relatable.
Once you have a vague image of your character, go on adding more details to it in your mind’s eye and write it down as it comes to you. For the purpose of this article, let’s suppose your character is a female. Below in this article I have compiled eleven factors that you can keep in mind while developing and writing about your character:
1. Name: You need to give her a name, so that it makes you feel as if you are thinking of a real person. While choosing a name you can also use one that reflects some quality of your protagonist. For example, she maybe named Dawn because of the kind of innocence she radiates that is relatable to the freshness of dawn. Or you can name her Grace, because of a graceful, ladylike quality about her that you want the readers to feel. But then, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. It entirely depends upon your own unique style of showcasing your character.
2. Age: The readers need to know the age of the character to build a clear and defined image in their minds. Is she a teenager or someone in her late twenties? Usually, the age would be mostly dependent on the storyline and the genre. If for e.g., it is a middle grade book then the character’s age would be somewhere around nine to twelve years old, whereas for a young adult book, the character should be around fifteen to eighteen years old. The age also determines the tone used by the characters, whether it is a mature voice or a chirpy, young voice.
3. Occupation: Once you have determined her age, you can write about what she does. Is she is a student, or a career woman, or simply someone with a daytime job to support her family? The protagonist’s personality will be largely determined by this because, supposing you are talking about a high school student here, then you are portraying a typically young person. Hence her tone of voice, like most teenagers, will be often headstrong and opinionated or maybe light and carefree. Again like most teenagers, she maybe very impulsive or spontaneous in her actions. Then again your character maybe a research scholar and carry an intelligent look about her, and also is quite serious about her outlook in life. Another example we can cite is that of a waitress who has a gregarious personality as per the demands of her job. On the contrary she might have a dual personality where she is very cheerful and outgoing at her work place but reserved and quiet when she is at home or with her close circle of friends.
4. Physical descriptions: It’s time to describe her physically now and the possibilities are limitless here. She maybe very pretty, or on the contrary, be very average looking but with a charming smile or a cute nose. Or she may have captivating eyes on a handsome face, complemented by a luxurious, shiny mane of hair. There are no boundaries here and you can portray her as you would like your readers to glimpse a vision that is close to yours.
5. Character traits: Once the sex, age, occupation and physical descriptions are done, you need to write about her character traits. Describe how she really is as a person with her peers, friends or family and how she is when she is alone. How does it affect her relationships in turn? One thing you have to keep in mind while developing your protagonist is that besides her heroic qualities, she will sound more real if you also add some flaws to her character. This will help add more depth and dimension to her personality. In the real world nobody is perfect, so showing some of her weaknesses makes her sound more credible. She may be reserved, but at the same time very easy-going and helpful. Or she maybe cheerful, bubbly and talkative but at the same time also sensitive and gullible.
Strive to make her sound more like a round character instead of flat. For example, she maybe a very friendly girl as well as straightforward and helpful but her straightforward nature makes her too frank for some people’s liking. As a result, she has many enemies too. Or, she maybe very independent and individualistic but she also is very stubborn which leads to many tensions in her relationships with her friends. Then again, she may have a calm and peaceful disposition but this is the very reason that makes her a soft prey to nasty and loud people around her. Balancing the heroic qualities of your protagonists with one or a few flaws can help the readers look up to the protagonists as well as relate to a piece of their own weakness too. Similarly, when you write about the antagonists, you can highlight a good quality to their otherwise villainous nature. For e.g., supposing your antagonist is a male who is aggressive, opportunistic, self-centred and deceitful. Then you can throw in a virtue here amongst his basket of vices, such as, he is very loyal where his family is concerned and can do anything for them.
6. Settings: You can relate her moods and emotions to the settings of the novel so that it gives the readers more insight to her character. For e.g., she lives in the country but she longs for the hustle and bustle of city life. Hence that makes her grumpy and emotionally needy. Or, she may be relocated to the city but she longs to be in the countryside; hence that makes her restless as well as a loner. That would explain her emotional state in the novel and naturally help to pave the way to write about the character’s motivations.
7. Situations: The situations in her life will be another factor to show how the character handles her emotions, trauma, setbacks or happy events in her life. Maybe she lost someone close to her; hence she is devastated and withdrawn. Or, maybe she has been accepted by the college of her dreams, hence she is very excited and optimistic about her future. The situations in her life add a better perspective to the character’s traits and helps the reader to imagine the character better.
8. Past: The past of a person largely determines why the protagonist is the way he or she is. You can talk about the influences or kind of upbringing the protagonist had in shaping her character. For e.g., the character might have had a submissive mother and a controlling father. So she decided very early in her life that she would always stand up for herself, come what may. Hence she is very assertive in her dealings which may sometimes border around aggression. Or the character’s role model was her mother who was very ambitious, so she too grew up to be ruthlessly ambitious and goal-driven. Or maybe the character was always compared to her better performing siblings; hence there is a kind of insecurity in her which she tries to hide with subtle sarcasm.
9. Objective: The objective of the character show what she strives to be at the beginning of the novel. Maybe she wants to be very rich since she grew up in scarcity and deprived economic conditions. Hence the character is goal-oriented as well as extremely persevering. Or the character grew up in a very ambitious family where parents never had any time for each other. Hence the character is very laidback and wants to enjoy life. Or, maybe she simply follows her passions and creativity and doesn’t bother too much about money. Instead she strives for a sense of personal achievement and contentment.
10. Motivation: The motivation of the character strongly determines the nature of the character which in turn is a major factor in driving the plot. Maybe the protagonist is a quiet and mellowed kind of person who mostly minds her own business. But the murder of her mother changes her and so she is motivated by powerful emotions such as anger, resentment and a strong sense of vengeance. The novel then becomes a story of vengeance or crime as determined by the motivation of the main character. Or maybe the protagonist wants to win a beauty pageant but she isn’t motivated enough as she is instilled with qualities of humility and modesty by her parents. But an inciting incident like being ridiculed as a doormat by the popular girls in her school motivates her to prove herself. Hence the novel is more of a chick lit which features peer rivalries, popularity contests, romances and friendships between the characters. Or, again for instance the character may not be ambitious enough. But the tragedy of losing her father at not being able to avail funds for medical aid, propels her to be ruthlessly ambitious and money-minded. So the storyline is basically about the character’s hunger for power and money.
Motivation, therefore, is the major factor that determines a character’s development. In the course of the novel, the characters goes through various changes as they try to achieve their goals in face of their challenges. For example, a very shy woman maybe motivated to change into an extrovert or a conservatively dressed female may turn to be a bold and flashy dresser just to achieve the goals in her life.
11. Show and not tell: Lastly, keep in mind that when writing about your character, you have to show her personality through the dialogues she has with the supporting characters instead of making readers follow long descriptions. This is a far creative way to show your characters and their traits. Maybe your protagonist is rebellious and therefore, whilst an argument with her mother, you can show her rebellious side. Or she is an earthy and sensible kind of teenager and to show this side of her character you can throw in a scene of her with her girl friends. In this scenario her girlfriends maybe mostly talking about fashion, parties and boys while she appears bored and her mind wanders elsewhere.
So keeping these points in mind, you go on developing your characters and make them grow as the situations keep changing in your novel. As the characters evolve, the readers too will feel they are reading about people in the real world. The protagonists’ journey also becomes the reader’s journey as they go through the same emotional highs and lows, and reader ends up wanting to know more.
Author: Pratibha R DH